South Africa

States of the Arts


The Butcher Boys

by Jane Alexander

View an image of the artwork →

Three humanoid figures sit on a bench, their faces mouthless and their eyes jet black. Horns twist outwards from their skulls; holes gape where their ears should be. Dark lines mark a trail from neck to belly button, as if the skin had been sliced open and stitched back together. Despite their grotesque form, the setting in which these figures are placed seems unremarkable. Hands rest on laps and legs cross casually, postures that suggest the calm wait for a bus. But beyond the stillness, violence lurks, the ugliness of power and oppression depicted by a trio of loitering beasts.

Words by John Wadsworth


directed by Matthew Jankes
Short film

View a still from the film →

A boy and a street thug walk through a field of tall grass, bound for the power station that looms in the distant mist. Mthunzi encourages the young Themba to advance, not to resist the intuition that guides him. The child halts, and grips the locket he carries. Light flickers and time is folded. He leads with newfound conviction. Their goal grows ever nearer as the pair calmly enter the great abandoned structure. Outside, armed police approach. They escort a superstitious local man, who hunts Themba relentlessly, fearful of his mysterious powers. He believes the boy to be cursed; as the action progresses, we remain transfixed.

Words by Hugh Maloney


by Elisabeth Eybers

View an image of the poet →

Confused and tormented by the alienating behaviour of a loved one, we seek out Elisabeth Eybers’ learned words. Assuming the role of an honest, insightful adviser, Eybers encourages us to consider the other individual’s deeper needs: ‘she has her reasons’. Consolation is gifted to us through empathy. The poet is blunt, even reproachful, as she asks us to accept the ‘unfathomable logic’ that has been unearthed. ‘Lines’, it seems, is not meant for the reader, but for the ‘gentle, perspicacious person’ for whom she requests greater understanding.

Words by Hugh Maloney

Calypso Minor

by Abdullah Ibrahim & Ekaya

View the album cover →

Double bass and drum kit lay down a sauntering groove, a rhythmic spine that rarely loses sight of its ambling nonchalance. It breaks only for a brief bass solo, a handful of fills, and a late flash of burgeoning intensity. Stabbed notes make for a sparse texture, allowing plenty of space for the murky, languid harmonies of Ekaya's wind and brass. Joining the jam, Abdullah Ibrahim chews over a handful of phrases on his piano. His delivery is staggered and confidently phrased, sporting just as much swagger as the ensemble he leads.

Words by Hugh Maloney

More to discover

The Butcher Boys: You can find a biography of Jane Alexander on the Tate website, and read an interview with the artist by Lisa Dent for Art in America.

Umkhungo: You can watch the film here.

Lines: You can read the poem here. (No page numbers are given, so it may be necessary to enter 'Lines' in the search box to find the poem quickly.)

Calypso Minor: You can listen to the song here.

Question of the day

Which South African artworks would you recommend, and why?
Let us know on Facebook, Patreon, or Twitter.

I’m in awe of Henrietta Rose-Innes’ novel Nineveh, and its glorious celebration of bugs, tough women, and open-mindedness. (→)

– Julianne Pachico, short story writer and author of The Lucky Ones (via The Brief →)

More Sweetly Play the Dance, a multiscreen installation by William Kentridge, uses global references to create a strangely moving portrait of violence. (→)

– Ann Marie Fleming, filmmaker and director of Window Horses (via The Brief →)

Also on Silent Frame